From the editor and writers of Bright Lights Film Journal
Action! Interviews with Directors from Classical Hollywood to Contemporary Iran
(Anthem Art and Culture), by Gary Morris (Editor), Bert Cardullo (Introduction), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Foreword). London and New York: Anthem Press, 2009.
"I dare anyone to squeeze between two covers a more varied, useful and flat out entertaining sampling of the personalities that make the seventh art the liveliest."
David Hudson,
Welcome to the Hot-Hell California
Welcome to the Hot-Hell California
Los Angeles as the Underworld in Film
"Admittedly, the night lights and bright beaches of L.A. are attractive, but these are just surfaces of the material world that spellbind souls into the pits of hell, whether they be the Los Angeles Basin or San Fernando Valley. I will take my shot at warning you by using films evidencing L.A. to be hell, or damn near it."
J D Markel
Los Angeles is a terrible place. You should not move to it, and if you have moved to it, move away and hurry. To impress the gravity of this warning I could illustrate a litany of various crowds, crimes, pollutants, unpredictable inhabitants, political corruption, politico-economic attachment to the concept of "growth" (a code word for the promotion of more over-crowdedness), and the devastating 8.3 magnitude earthquake that is certain to come soon. However, these dangers are fairly widely known yet have not deterred the locust-like swarming to the ironically labeled City of Angels. Musicians have tried to warn you through their art. Big names like Guns 'n Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" and Poison's "Fallen Angel" sang the fatal attractions of L.A. An earlier effort was "Hotel California," by the Eagles. A recent undertaking in musical Los Angeles tocsins is the Hollywood Undead's 2011 hit "Been to Hell." Its lyrics are bluntly honest about Los Angeles. They contain no beautiful yet ineffective ironies like the Eagles calling L.A. "such a lovely place" while at the same time suggesting it is hell. Further, the Hollywood Undead are Los Angeles natives, so they know what they are talking about. Here is a sampling of "Been to Hell":
'Dead chimp in Sunset Boulevard'You need to wake up and face it
So you can taste my reality
Now you're stuck in this place you hate
And you came here so happily
Then it made you lose your faith
And that's what fucked with your sanity
Say goodbye to your soul and say hello to
your vanity
The Been to Hell (2011) video works excellently within Los Angeles visual traditions, like a corrective riposte to the vain hopes ignited by the likes of television's Baywatch series and the old Randy Newman I Love L.A. (1983) video that is still rattling around.1 Admittedly, the night lights and bright beaches of L.A. are attractive, but these are just surfaces of the material world that spellbind souls into the pits of hell, whether they be the Los Angeles Basin or San Fernando Valley. I will take my shot at warning you by using films evidencing L.A. to be hell, or damn near it. For my informational delivery system I take into mind Woody Allen's descent into hell in Deconstructing Harry (1997). Allen enters hell by means of an elevator. This elevator, like those in bygone department stores, provides a canned audio message announcing which floor provides what products. As Allen's elevator descends, a voice describes which level of hell holds what kind of sinner:
Floor five, subway muggers, aggressive panhandlers, and book critics . . . Floor six, right-wing extremists, serial killers, lawyers who appear on television . . . Floor seven, the media . . . Sorry, that floor is all filled up.
Funny stuff. But seriously, Los Angeles is all filled up too, and you need to stay away. Allen's elevator trip tracks the Inferno of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century poem Divine Comedy. Dante conceives of hell as a pit into the center of the Earth that has nine distinct circles or levels. As the levels get deeper, the earthly sins of its condemned denizens grow graver. At the floor of the pit, the ninth level of hell, Dante places a lake, the worst sinners, and Satan. Here are the nine floors of Los Angeles film hell:
First Floor of L.A. Hell: Constantine (2005)
Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine. He lives a limbo-like existence in Los Angeles because he once attempted suicide and died, which fated him for hell. But he saw hell only for a moment because a paramedic revived his earthly body. Thus, for Constantine, hell is on hiatus but coming back soon because he is dying of cancer. Meanwhile, he works as a freelance Los Angeles demon hunter and exorcist. According to Constantine, God and Lucifer (aka Satan, etc.) have an agreement, a kind of game, where they play with humans for their souls, "the great détente of the original superpowers." However, unbeknownst to earthly Bibles, Lucifer has an uppity son named Mammon. Mammon wants his own domain, so he plots with some mischievous half-angels to take over our world and make it evil. Naturally, Los Angeles is the beachhead for this invasion of Mammon's minions, which conveniently provides plenteous opportunities to see Constantine incinerate, obliterate, and eradicate demons with extreme prejudice. One of the first is a monster materialized from a swirling mass of vermin that faces Constantine on "Figueroa."
Constantine Constantine
Constantine Constantine
Constantine Constantine
This monster's constituents are an amalgamation of creepy-crawlies such as cockroaches and centipedes. There are also scarabs and land crabs, which actually do not exist in Los Angeles. In fact, although its air and waters are quite polluted, at ground level most of L.A. is very clean — relative to other big cities that is. This helps account for the prevalence of Los Angeles people and films showing a disdain or humorous interest in biological phenomena that can be cast as grotesque or "gross," because such things are atypical in L.A, or cleaned up rather quickly. To finish off the monster, Constantine lures it into a lane of Los Angeles traffic. Since demons from the underworld are unhip to the perils of moving vehicles (see, e.g., Little Nicky [2000]), the monster is smashed into smithereens by a fast-traveling van. The collision pulverizes most of the component bugs into a gooey chartreuse-green pulp, splattering Constantine and the van's windshield. But some of the little critters survive, and Constantine assiduously squishes them with his shoes. This is a very L.A. scene; its people typically loathe to see any bug anywhere.
Also apropos for Los Angeles, Constantine is equipped with good weapons. No bows of burning gold but modern tech like a Striker-type shotgun that shoots home-load slugs cast from the molten gold of consecrated religious objects. The theology of Constantine is complex, and creative to say the least. For one, there is a "Bible from hell" that adds four chapters to the sixteen of the NT's 1 Corinthians.2 This Hollywood-begotten apocrypha foretells Mammon's evil aims. I think it is no surprise to reveal that, in the end, Constantine's fate to hell is thwarted. The Countenance Divine shines forth on Constantine, saving him from hell's hot and nasty land. But earlier, while living, and enabled by his psychic abilities, he briefly visits hell as a private investigator. To make that transition Constantine requires a focal point for a self-hypnotic trance. For this purpose he picks a black cat named Duck. Constantine says cats are "good" for this because they are "half in, half out." Here is Constantine's mind-meld with Duck:
Constantine Constantine
Constantine Constantine
Constantine arrives in hell and it is Los Angeles. It is a pervasive inferno, like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, or what those space aliens rendered in Independence Day (1996). Constantine walks on a freeway jammed with burning, melting cars. In the distance is the skyline of downtown Los Angeles, a vista that might be becoming iconic in film, like L.A.'s palm trees or the Hollywood Sign. Here are depictions of the skyline in Constantine and other films:
Constantine Battle: Los Angeles
Falling Down Been to Hell
Independence Day Independence Day
View from south, photo by author CConstantine
The most conspicuous building is somewhat cylindrical Library Tower. Completed in 1989, within just seven years it became the bull's-eye for the aliens in Independence Day. Speaking of which, remember how the rooftops of the L.A. skyscrapers had contingents of morons trying to communicate with the aliens in that film? Some carrying signs like, "Welcome, Make Yourselves At Home." Now do you recall? Sure, this setup is just one of the film's mockeries of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). But think about why it works. Independence Day shows cities around the world being eradicated. None other but L.A. displays these fools. Look above, see the blue-lit idiots atop the Library Tower about to be vaporized? Posed in any other city in the world they would be tragic figures, or just confusing. But because the film makes it abundantly clear they are in L.A., their dumbness make perfect sense. In fact, they probably are not natives, but moved to L.A. hoping to find soul mates and fellow thinkers, the kind of people who would see Reeves' intense communing with Duck and think, "So what? I do that all the time with my cat." You know them; that is why you laughed at them. They are a stereotype you can and do feel superior to, and deservedly so. Like you know a devastating earthquake is coming soon, you know in your heart moving to L.A. might make you a loon. So be smart and stay away, except for short touristic visits.
On its visual surfaces, Constantine looks like a great L.A. hell film, deserving a very low placement in the pit. However, it has characteristics that restrict it to the shallowest parts. In fact, my feelings are in limbo whether the first floor of L.A. hell belongs on this list at all. Although Constantine is all about Los Angeles and hell, it is not about L.A. being hell. Its hell could have happened in any major city. The hellishness in the comic books underlying the film transpires mostly in London.3 A further demerit is that Constantine presents the distracting enticement that L.A. can look pretty good at night. This is not an uncommon view. For example, when Katherine Jackson, matriarch of the musical family, first moved from humdrum Gary, Indiana, to the Hollywood Hills, she described the night-time sight of the lights of L.A., "This must be what heaven looks like, I've never seen anything so beautiful."4 Roman Polanski offers a wearier judgment. Writing about his first home in the same hills, he said about Los Angeles, "There's no more beautiful city in the world, provided it's seen by night and from a distance."5 Like the flame singes the moth, or the bug zapper wastes innocent gnats, Los Angeles will fricassee your soul.
Second Floor of L.A. Hell: Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
Keanu Reeves is great, and I especially like him in the films wherein he struggles with great forces of disruption. For example, he fights the Devil himself in The Devil's Advocate (1997), devilish robots in the Matrix series, and Dennis Hopper in Speed (1994). In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, formerly titled "Bill and Ted Go to Hell," Bill and Ted go to hell, accidentally, but escape it by outwitting the Grim Reaper. This is not a core Los Angeles hell film. While on Earth the film transpires in San Dimas and Canyon Country, locations peripheral the so-called City of "Angels," but still within Los Angeles County. Bill and Ted are certainly Southern California types, but do not consider them stupid like those imports atop the Library Tower in Independence Day. Bill and Ted are ultimately resourceful and are not devoid of any sense of self-preservation. In Bogus Journey, the sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), a demonic man from the future named Nomolos (Solomon backwards) creates evil robotic doppelgangers for Bill and Ted. The evil robots are sent back to the present to kill Bill and Ted, ruin their place in history, and make San Dimas evil. Early indications of the evilness of the robotic Bill and Ted include their attempt to squash an innocent cat with their time-travelling telephone booth. Ted says, "Aim for the cat, dude! Aim for the cat!" "I'm trying, Evil Ted, I'm trying," Bill replies. Later, when they look down on the demure night lights of San Dimas, Bill says, "Not bad!" Ted replies, "Yeah, let's make it bad!"
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
The cat gets away, but not Bill and Ted. Their robotic doppelgangers dump them off a cliff. Dead, Bill and Ted wake up as ghosts in a coolly colored earth. But soon, and by accident, their amorous stepmother Missy conveys them to hell, a place full of astonishing sights, including an evilly nightmarish Easter Bunny. If you have seen the film, you know what I mean. Many report having disturbing dreams about Bogus Journey's Easter Bunny for years after seeing the film. In fact, you may be incensed at me for reviving a vision of this malefic lagomorph from the deep recesses of your mind where you thought you had buried it forever. Me, it made me laugh my head off. But certainly do not show this film to young children.
Bill and Ted escape hell, outwit the grim reaper, and get help from God in order to go back to Earth to kill the evil Bill and Ted. They also rescue their sexy girlfriends, the "historical babes," two hot princesses from medieval England whom Rufus rescued or kidnapped back in Excellent Adventure. Another very cute recurring character is Missy, Bill's stepmom in Excellent Adventure, Ted's in Bogus Journey. "I can't believe Missy divorced your dad and married mine," Ted says. Missy is only three years older than the boys and once was their schoolmate. She behaves flirtatiously and displays inappropriate public affection, usually directed toward her husbands. One of Bill and Ted's lingering crises is their arrows of desire for Missy, summed up in Bill's admonishment, "Ted, it's your mom, dude!"
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
Third Floor of L.A. Hell: Defending Your Life (1991)
Nineteen ninety-one was a big year for Los Angeles hell films, even before the 1992 riots. In Defending Your Life Albert Brooks dies in a BMW versus bus collision just inside the L.A. city line. His soul transports to a purgatory-like way station that looks like nearby Orange County. This is "Judgment City," an afterworld whereat Brooks will have to "defend" his previous life via a reexamination of nine days of less than stellar personal conduct during his time in L.A. If the defense succeeds, Brooks will ascend to an upper level of existence. Failure results in reincarnation back to earth, which is not being in hell per se but an existence treated with disdain by the more evolved beings. In Defending Your Life's eschatological layout there is no hell. But this lack is not fatal here because the film contains one of the greatest lines ever said about L.A., "Actually, there is no hell, although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close." The film also broaches the discomfiting topic of the soon-coming super-quake. When Brooks asks his Jeep-owning friend why people drive Jeeps in L.A., his friend reasons, "Make fun, but in an 8.5 earthquake you'll beg for a Jeep." Brooks replies, "In an 8.5 earthquake I'll beg for a coffin." Both true; both jeeps and coffins will be abundantly useful when the Big One hits. Being a native, Brooks does not visually romanticize the streets of Los Angeles.
Defending Your Life Defending Your Life
Defending Your Life Defending Your Life
Defending Your Life Defending Your Life
What looks really good in Defending Your Life, besides Meryl Streep, is the food. Judgment City provides the most delicious and bountiful food you can eat, and Brooks partakes of it. The omelet plate looks particularly yummy. Brooks learns, "As long as you are here, you can eat all you want. It won't affect you physically, and you won't gain weight. So pig out. Eat thirty hotcakes." Sounds like heaven to me.
Fourth Floor of L.A. Hell: Eraserhead (1977) / Barton Fink (1991)
Eraserhead Eraserhead
Eraserhead Eraserhead
Eraserhead Eraserhead
As the pit of L.A. film hell deepens, not only do the relevant sins grow darker, everything waxes weirder. Next stop, David Lynch's Eraserhead. This film is the story about the birth and death of printer Henry Spencer, and his earthly existence betwixt spent amidst the dark satanic mills of industrial Los Angeles. Henry is a good guy, patient and caring, evincing no degree of envy or greed. Eraserhead begins with Henry's spirit, or God's idea of him, floating in space above an orb that represents Earth or matter. His spirit is transmuted into a strange creature that in one manner resembles a human brain with spinal cord attached, but also looks a little like a spermatozoon. These things pop out and plop down throughout the film. In the beginning, the Henry-zoon causes a conception, then we follow an emergence through a birth canal, and then the film presents the full-grown Henry walking upon the not so green or pleasant land of Los Angeles. Henry's father-in-law plumber raves, "I've seen this neighborhood change from pastures to the hellhole it is now! I put in every damn pipe in this neighborhood!" To wit, due to "progress," no more are the holy lambs of God on L.A.'s pleasant pastures seen. But maybe L.A. never really was a paradise. Before civilization, was it not just a scrubland choked with rattlesnakes and skunks? Anyway, Henry marries Mary, but the fruit of their union is unclear. According to the doctors, "they're still not sure it is a baby." "Baby" looks like the Henry-zoon but with some turtle or tadpole DNA shuffled in. Eraserhead offers lots of gross, oozing liquids: Henry gets a nosebleed, a cooked chicken terrifically leaks and gurgles a dark blood, and "Baby" extrudes at least four different substances, the final looking like foam concrete. It is a dark film fascinated with dust, dirt, and wet stuff. In the end God shuts Henry down, and Henry proceeds to heaven, where the Radiator Lady ushers him to bliss. Henry spent his life in the material hell of Los Angeles and gets a deserved reward for it.
Barton Fink is a film that takes several cues from Eraserhead. Oozing, for one, like recurring pus from an ear and gooey wallpaper. Barton is an upcoming New York City playwright. He sells out his snooty principles for greed by moving to Hollywood to make the big bucks as a screenwriter on contract to a studio. He resides in a creepy Los Angeles hotel, which is like a metaphor for his own mind, and hell and purgatory. Hell like when it is consumed in flame, purgatory while testing him as a writer and otherwise. Or all of L.A. is purgatory or hell. In Eraserhead, Henry's life is bookended by bright white lights. Barton's L.A. life begins and perhaps ends with oceanic wave crashes on a surf rock. In the end, he is fired from his studio but remains contractually obligated to stay in L.A. Stuck, he travels to Zuma Beach, Malibu, a nice spot near the edge of Los Angeles County where many scenes from Baywatch were shot. What earns Barton Fink a good placement in L.A. hell film is not its punches at the film industry, an easy target, but its rewriting of the Bible.
Barton Fink Constantine
Barton Fink Barton Fink
In his dingy hotel room, after weeks of having written only two short sentences for a film script, Barton feels driven to consult a Gideon's Bible. He is drawn to Daniel 2:30, pictured above. King Nebuchadnezzar demands his wizards interpret his dream or be chopped up into little pieces and their tents "be made a dunghill." Which got me thinking of Eraserhead. Lynch says Eraserhead was inspired by the Bible but declines to identify what part. Is Daniel 2:30 Barton Fink's stab at the Eraserhead source mystery? Henry is decapitated in a dream,6 and his brain is lathed into little erasers for pencil ends, thereby he is arguably "cut in pieces." Also, there are piles of dirt and matter in Henry's apartment. The one on his bedside table, could that be meant to represent a "dunghill"? Strangely, Barton Fink's Daniel "2:30" is a biblical fudge. The words are actually from Daniel 2:5. The real Daniel 2:30 says this:
But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou might know the thoughts of thy heart
So Barton Fink's game is to conceal Daniel's humble dream interpretation proclamation with Nebuchadnezzar's prior dangerous plea. Is Barton a Daniel or a Nebuchadnezzar? Is his hotel room neighbor the Devil or a helpful angel? Is the whole film just a dream? Is Barton's own head in the box? Should we care? Barton Fink shows another biblical alteration. At Genesis 1:1, instead of the words, "In the beginning . . . ," Barton sees, "Fade in on a tenement building on Manhattan's Lower East Side." Which is funny; they are the first words of his meager script, but I do not give a damn for Barton. This might be a compliment; I do not think the film wants its audience to like Barton either. For example, the film invites disparagement of his old New York attitude that coming to L.A. is some kind of greedy compromise of his art. But I like the selfless Henry, so I will move on with him and the origin of Eraserhead. My guess, it is Genesis:
EraserheadIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
EraserheadThen God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so.
EraserheadThen God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth
EraserheadThen God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, 7 over the birds of the air . . .
Eraserhead. . . and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth"
EraserheadThen God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply"; . . . To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children."
Eraserhead is a mediation on materiality and spirit. In the Bible "dust" is the elementary particle of life. For example, Genesis 2:7: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Ecclesiastes 12:7: "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it." From the third chapter of Ecclesiastes:
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Speaking of vanity, Eraserhead suggests God made mankind better-looking than Himself. Eraserhead also lightly challenges biblical physics. It accepts the position we are dust, but it also visually inquires, "But what about the liquids?' "I love organic phenomena," Lynch says in conjunction with the film, and Eraserhead delivers plenty of it. Lots of dust too.
Eraserhead Eraserhead
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.
Fifth Floor of L.A. Hell: Falling Down (1993)
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Michael Douglas plays an angry man falling into the abyss that is Los Angeles. Partly styled on Homer's Odysseus, Douglas' war is over. He was a missile designer, but with the Soviet Troy shattered, his Southern California defense job is now disposable. He also has mysterious anger control issues that predate his firing. He wants to return "home" to the beachside Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, but his ex-wife has a restraining order against him. The film starts stuck in an all too typical downtown L.A. freeway jam. The visions around Douglas are hot, steamy, and close to fiery. Even a Garfield the Cat stuffed toy seems to taunt him.
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
A familiar L.A. scene for you to consider. Everyone stuck in the jam looks angry or self-absorbed, except for one man who looks back at Douglas with a satisfied smile. I think he is symbolic Satan, thriving on the mess. Douglas gives up and abandons his car to set off on his march to the sea. He enters different zones providing diverse aggravations. In latter parts he is clad like a black pajama-wearing Viet Cong soldier. My favorite violent engagements have a strong L.A. vibe. For instance, a gang of hoodlums, in a revenge attack, shoot at Douglas, an easy, stationary target standing at a payphone. Although using automatic weapons, the thugs waste several civilians and shops but miss Douglas altogether. L.A. neighborhood gangs are notoriously anarchic and bad shots. As Douglas deals with one these losers he says, "Take some shooting lessons, asshole." Who in Los Angeles has not yelled similar at news reports of shootings where scattered innocents are slaughtered but the intended victim, possibly deserving some shooting, slips away scratchless? Also good, Falling Down's trek to the sea does not gloss over the unattractiveness of Los Angeles. Here are some edifying views:
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
No paradise here, no New Jerusalem, no green and pleasant land is this modern Los Angeles. A better name would be "City of Glare." It is true, as visible in the first picture, that L.A. has lots of nice palm trees. They truly are iconic, but they also conceal dangers. Above, Douglas is looking through his shoe at his target downslope and westward toward his former home in Venice, occupied by the woman that no longer loves him and fears his ire. This ticks me off a little, but did you know that the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers sports teams regularly blast "I Love L.A." over the loudspeakers, but only after home venue victories?8 What kind of love is that? Conditional. Anyway, Falling Down's climactic shootout at the Venice pier might seem to subvert the film's narrative that L.A. is a not so pleasant place to be. The coastal scene looks good, like a manifestation of Randy Newman's unfortunate lyrics, "like another perfect day." But Falling Down is aware of this and cleverly anticipates the paradisiacal paradox. But first, the pictures:
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Douglas tumbles into the bottom of the pit of Los Angeles, a body of water like the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno. Upper right, see where Douglas is pointing the squirt gun? At the far left of the picture is the site where some of the attractive scenes in the I Love L.A. and Been to Hell videos were shot. Just a little further left, off-screen, is Will Rogers State Beach, the main base for the much beloved Baywatch series. A few miles further is Malibu, on whose shores sit nice homes often occupied by adored entertainment figures. Falling Down subverts this semblance of pleasantness with stone-cold facts delivered by authority figure Robert Duvall. The scene: Douglas is confronting ex-wife Barbara Hershey at the end of the Venice pier. Duvall reveals himself; they do not know he is a law enforcement officer yet:
Hershey: You need help. You're sick.

Douglas: Sick? You want to see sick? Take a walk around this town, that's sick.

Duvall: You ain't kidding. Would you believe it that I used to fish right here? This very spot? Now they tell you don't eat the fish, it's poisonous. You can't even swim in the water, it will give some kind of bacterial infection. How's that for sick . . . Everyone has their own idea what they think paradise is.
No less than Baywatch star Pamela Anderson can attest to the filth of Santa Monica Bay. She got multiple infections from the waters and afterward demanded all her future scenes be shot beachside only.9 A source of the water's malignant toxins is no less than those shoreline homes in Malibu. Cesspools and septic tanks are atypical in Los Angeles City, but not so in Malibu. In the dark of night many greedy homeowners or property managers make use of the bay as a free dump. The aromatic evidence is especially foul in summer when there is little wind and the current is too feeble to push the waste far out to sea. The poisonous slush just sloshes along the northern littoral of Santa Monica Bay. This has been going on for years, and apparently real estate agents, perhaps innocently, accord the cause not to be the illegal efflux of anthropogenic feces but a naturally occurring, Malibu-endemic, morning-specific red tide otherwise unknown to science.10 But the nose knows the truth and needs no dodgy science to deny the cause or exaggerate it. Now some strange types might be attracted to the idea they could catch an infection from a favorite entertainer by swimming in L.A. But Los Angeles is hellish enough, it does not need this extra demon, so I suggest DNA. I have read stories about using genetic testing to hunt down canine culprits, one example being the New York Times story titled, "Tracing Unscooped Dog Waste Back to the Culprit, with Science."11 Why not do the same for Malibu human beings? The testing is cheap, environmentally sensible, and substantial fines can be assessed on people who can afford to pay them, thus helping strained local government finances during difficult economic times. Additional monies could be made merchandizing "Malibu Poop Patrol" t-shirts and such. Also, how about a Discovery Channel show?
So the water is polluted. What about the land behind it? What about "The Big One"? What will it look like then? Let me shoot your eyes with six cuts from two films. On the left side is Battle: Los Angeles (2011), on the right Independence Day:
Battle: Los Angeles Independence Day
Battle: Los Angeles Independence Day
Battle: Los Angeles Independence Day
The first Battle: Los Angeles picture is a southerly view of the same shoreline seen in Falling Down. Do you want to be there when the super-quake hits, whether an 8.3, 8.5 or, dare I imagine, an 8.7? The volume of fire in Independence Day is perhaps a comparative exaggeration, but the dead will not know the difference. Look at the Battle: Los Angeles scenes. I do not think downtown will be towering infernos, but the small structures will burn even more than depicted. Here is how it can go down. First, the seismic waves will scramble the structures, cracking and breaking them up. Think of it like the primary concussive bombing of Dresden during World War II, which scrambled that city to make the later waves of incendiaries more efficacious, that is, hellish. Second, there will be fire from the sky, but the first flames will come from below. The former pastures of L.A. are laid with natural gas pipes everywhere. These lines will snap under streets and homes. The gas will be lit by pilot lights or other ignition sources. Like Dresden or the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the shaking is horrendous, but the fires afterwards are worse. In the I Love L.A. video Randy Newman exclaims, "Look at those trees!" Okay, here they are:
'Do these look safe to you?' 'Do these look safe to you?'
Do these look safe to you? Have you ever seen a Washingtonia palm tree burn? L.A. is heavily dotted with these fan palms, both the California and Mexican varieties. Bookmark my words, after the Big One hits, these trees will be renamed "Devil's Candles." The apron of dead fronds on California fan palms are obviously dangerous. But what is worse is the live tops of the trees. When that oily plant matter burns, it is infernal.12 Like napalm but long burning, and drippy too. Not only does the treetop burn in situ, it spews out sparks and all sorts of bits and strips of flaming plant material that float about in the wind. If there is no climatic wind, the burning tree generates its own, like a long-spewing Roman candle. Even the loose fiber under the protective bark smolders and flies out as mini-sparks before the outer layer goes. But those burning tops, not only are they hazardous, they are high. The trees can grow to seventy-five feet, enabling them to strew their hellish flaming demon seed great distances, like gigantic fire-breathing dandelions. Look at the palms in Constantine's hell scene. I am certain that film's artists have actually seen such trees burn in a hot Santa Ana wind. Now imagine thousands of these trees aflame, igniting the next house or tree, multiple chain reactions, repeated again and again, eventually creating a city-wide, self-engorging, all-consuming, super-epic firestorm. Yes, indeed, "look at those trees," but run away, because, a la Johnny Cash, L.A. is going to burn, burn, burn, by a rain of fire. Also, please keep in mind the water pressure will be disrupted for days, if not years, so do not expect the fire department to help you.
Falling Down Falling Down
Falling Down Falling Down
Speaking of water, what is it with Douglas' little girl and her squirt gun? Falling Down's first intimate mother-daughter scene is in the kitchen. They are not cooking together, or cutting a birthday cake, or making valentine cards. No, they lovingly load a water pistol. Then the girl happily trots away with the weapon, the whole scene lit with touching warm light. Later we see her shooting her docile dog while contrastingly in the foreground her mother takes a scary telephone call from her violent ex-husband. The last time we see the girl armed she is gleefully shooting a television screen displaying a morbid Beaky Buzzard cartoon titled The Lion's Busy (1950). Beaky is a vulture who waits for Leo the lion to die so the bird can feast on the feline's corpse. Leo is enraged by this, so he tries to kill Beaky with a baseball bat and in other ways avoid becoming dinner. Is the violence of Douglas' character suggested to be genetic, as hinted in his child's disturbing behavior, and not merely the result of living in L.A.? Do representations of the girl engaged in violent activities promote or normalize aggression in children? What about animal cruelty? Interesting questions.
Sixth Floor of L.A. Hell: Prince of Darkness (1987)
Donald Pleasence plays a priest fighting evil. Satan is a green liquid inside a cylinder. They meet in Los Angeles. What could be better? Since this is an L.A. film, holy scripture can be rewritten, and very much so in Prince of Darkness. It turns out Satan really is a kind of "prince." He has a father, a putative "anti-God," in the film's conjecture on the scientific topic of anti-matter. According to an ancient secret text preserved by an ancient secret Catholic sect, the father of Satan was "a god who once walked the Earth before Man but was somehow banished to the dark side." Before banishment the father buried Satan the son in a container somewhere in the Middle East. The Church had been hiding these facts for 2,000 years hoping mankind would sometime develop the technology to figure out why Satan is a green mess in a bottle. For the last several centuries Satan's cylinder sat secreted underneath a Los Angeles church. But now Satan wants out of his prison, and he aims to bring his father back into our universe.
Prince of Darkness Prince of Darkness
Prince of Darkness Prince of Darkness
Prince of Darkness Tom in Hell in Puss in Boots (1949)
Being a Los Angeles film, Satan's rumblings stir up copious hordes of ants, maggots, earthworms, and beetles. In one grotesque scene, singer Alice Cooper stomps on a mass of beetles while stabbing a hapless student. Father Donald takes a dim view of the Church's conduct, hiding reality from the people. He opines:
Apparently a decision was made to characterize pure evil as a spiritual force. Evil within the darkness in the hearts of men. That was more convenient. In that way man remained at the centre of things. A stupid lie, we were salesmen that’s all, we sold our product to those who didn’t have it. The new life. Reward ourselves, punish our enemies. So we can live without truth. Substance, malevolence, that was the truth. Asleep; until now.
The "truth" being evil is actually a material substance, Satan, the green stuff in the cylinder, I think that is what he means. I better understand the following words spoken by the translator of the secret text: "Now later on here, Christ comes to warn us. He was of extra-terrestrial ancestry, but a human-like race."
Thus, Prince of Darkness well deserves its placement on the sixth floor of L.A. hell.
Seventh Floor of L.A. Hell: Sunset Boulevard (1950) / Targets (1968)
William Holden plays Joe, a chump who wanders into the life of an out-of-fashion silent screen actress who mistakes him to be the undertaker for her dead chimp. Although he is a screenwriter by trade, he is oblivious to the ominous dead ape symbolism-foreshadowing plot-mechanism and lets himself become Gloria Swanson's pet gigolo. The great lesson of Sunset Boulevard is: stay away from actresses. This wisdom is probably universally applicable, but since Los Angeles has the world's greatest collection of them, it is the most dangerously actress-full. What could be more humiliating than being a drama queen's bought chump blasted in the back while striding past the grave of a dead chimpanzee? Joe narrates the film as a dead man, and it is unclear where he is exactly, but he already suffered hell in Los Angeles, so wherever he is, he is in a better place now.
Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard
I was surprised to learn Sunset Boulevard was originally conceived very differently as a comedy starring Mae West. It turns out West was a monkey fan and kept them as pets. She grieved greatly at the death of her chimp Boogey, a name that resonates with Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles. Jackson passed away in a home on Sunset Boulevard literally between Norma Desmond's fictional manor and the last L.A. home of fellow chimpanzee owner Elvis Presley,13 and Sunset, specifically the Sunset Strip, is the locale for the gun store where the film Targets gets into gear. Targets is the story of Bobby, an amiable young sociopath who buys guns in Hollywood to commit aimless massacres upon innocent suburbanites in the San Fernando Valley. He starts by killing his wife and mother, escalates to random sniping at cars on an unbelievably undercrowded San Diego Freeway, then nests behind the screen of a drive-in theater in order to slaughter the nighttime audience watching a horror film. Funny stuff, some might think. The film's best line is said by Boris Karloff. Driving along Ventura Boulevard, he observes, "God, what an ugly town this has become." The authority and dejection in Karloff's delivery communicates he really knows what he is talking about; these words are close and personal for him. One reason I will not show pictures of this film to you is that the freeways and streets are amazingly free of cars, totally unrepresentative of L.A.'s modern overcrowded reality. Those freeways must have been fun to zoom around on. Some old-timers say Southern California was the closest thing to heaven on earth in the mid-sixties. But that is long gone, as the Eagles sing, "We haven't had that spirit here since, 1969." Targets and Sunset Boulevard have various interesting similarities about the vagaries of time and change in Hollywood, but more topically, what about Targets' similarity to the recent July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre? Targets creator Peter Bogdanovich wrote for the Hollywood Reporter:
People go to a movie to have a good time, and they get killed. It's a horrible, horrible event. It makes me sick that I made a movie about it . . . Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It's almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. Video games are violent, too. It's all out of control. I can see where it would drive somebody crazy . . . Obviously, there is violence in the world, and you have to deal with it. But there are other ways to do it without showing people getting blown up . . . I'm not sure what the solution is. I just know that the violence in this country is out of control. And the fact that guns are so easy to get is chilling. But nobody wants to blame the movies. Nobody wants to blame guns. And yet, it's so easy to buy them and there are more murders in this country than anywhere else.14
I will blame films; they can induce reckless behavior. I need no more proof than those pervasive warnings in television commercials such as "Do not try this at home." Take the auto ads showing males careening, skidding, and zooming around with no consequences, free from responsibility, the driver's face looking contented and worriless. If the producers of such ads did not face the liability that people would actually act out upon them, and had done so previously, the ads would carry no jarring warnings like "Drivers are professionals." It is a game; the ad makers invoke feelings of freedom from limitation in order to excite viewers' interest in the product, yet briefly exculpate themselves from consequential blame with a quickie warning. What kind of visual violence compels copycat behavior? War films do not. Cartoons maybe? Or are they outlets for violence and channel pain elsewhere? Murder rates are generally falling in the United States. In Targets Bobby is not immoral but amoral. It did not matter to him if his targets are good or bad, or friends or enemies. His parting words are, "I hardly ever missed, did I?" He could not distinguish between Karloff on the screen and the real one on the ground. Could insane people identify with Bobby? Sure, some could be inspired by him even. The Aurora shooter may have seen Targets, but he certainly knew another film very well. He was garbed like the Joker from The Dark Knight (2008). In that film the Joker is an amoral character like Bobby. The film visually revels in the Joker's acts and story-wise is in good part a character analysis on his uninhibited amorality. The Joker does not see himself as a lawbreaker at all, "The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules," he says. The Joker is not anarchic; he just does not care. As he advises, "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things." Targets, a great candidate for L.A. hell, whatever its results.
Eighth Floor of L.A. Hell: The Loved One (1965)
The comedy The Loved One is perhaps the greatest Los Angeles hell film due to its incorporation of the greatest hell literature, Dante's Inferno. Robert Morse plays an Englishman named Dennis who claims to be a poet and works at a pet cemetery. The object of his affections is Aimee Thanatogenos, a cadaver cosmetologist at a human cemetery modeled on Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Dennis fraudulently recites old poetry to impress Aimee, leading her to believe he wrote it. A true cad and scoundrel, he appropriates lines like Edgar Allan Poe's "Thy beauty is to me, like those Nicean barks of yore" to make himself sound smart and sensitive. The film begins with an airliner descent into the hell that is Los Angeles. Dennis narrates the scene with lines from the 19th-century James Thomson poem "The City of Dreadful Night:"
Actress atop Hollywood sign in Been to HellThe City is of Night: perchance of death,[ . . . ]
They leave all hope behind who enter here:
One certitude while sane they cannot leave,
One anodyne for torture and despair. —
The certitude of death.
The poem is much about London being hell, but the words are a great fit for Los Angeles too. Similar sensibilities arise in the songs "Been to Hell" and "Hotel California" (e.g., "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave"). "They leave all hope behind who enter here" is a nod to the famous words written on Inferno's Gate of Hell, but the poem owes no structural debt to Dante. But The Loved One does, showing most prominently in the cemeteries, zoned like Inferno. Whispering Glades — the human cemetery — is divided into several zones, which Aimee introduces to Dennis while giving a tour of the grounds. There is a place for literary personages presided over by a statue of Homer. There is "Lover's Nest," graced with a purported reproduction of Rodin's famous statue The Kiss. The Kiss was inspired by Rodin's reading of the story of two lovers trapped in Dante's area of hell reserved for lust. "Unrestrained passion" Dennis calls it, which he later practices rather clumsily. There is a zone called, "Barchester Terrace for loved ones of the financial professions." At a small pool Aimee explains, "The bottom of the lagoon is known as Neptune's Cradle. Those loved ones were completely dedicated to the sea, long distance swimmers, Fourth of July boating enthusiasts, admirals, surfers . . ." There are no surfers in Dante's hell, but The Loved One's lagoon tombstones lie just below the surface water, like heads of people in the icy lake of Dante's ninth circle. For comparison, a sketch by poet William Blake below:
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One Hell, Canto 32, by William Blake
The obscurest bit of Dante-ness found on the grounds of Whispering Glades is the place called "The Cloisters of Harrow":
Aimee: And here are the Cloisters of Harrow.

Dennis: The Cloisters of Harrow?

Aimee: Yes, for loved ones of great learning.

Dennis: I see, they were all great scholars.

Aimee: Yes. This is the entire missionary staff of the St. Francis theological seminary of Burbank — all massacred.

Dennis: All of them?

Aimee: Yes, in different parts of the world, over the years, by the regional savages there.
The "Harrowing of Hell" is a modernly obscure religious doctrine that was of some interest to Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages, but very interesting to Dante as displayed in Divine Comedy. Basically, Christ goes to hell to rescue the Old Testament heroes and prophets who died without Christian salvation and delivers them to heaven. In The Loved One's version, missionaries from Burbank go to savage parts of the world, die, and their bodies are brought back to the San Fernando Valley. The film's Dante references are obscure, one might even say uneven. Evelyn Waugh's 1948 book The Loved One presents Los Angeles as a strange and alien place, but not hell or its kin. His Whispering Glades is a facsimile of that L.A. oddity Forest Lawn cemetery, which happens to be zoned, like Dante's work. Waugh's human cemetery has a "Poet's Corner" zone presided over by a statue of Homer. Waugh's original also has a "Lover's Nest" burial zone containing a copy of Rodin's The Kiss, as does the film. The Dante connection is merely a coincidence. The screenwriters, Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, started writing together in March 1964. Like the film, Waugh's Dennis is a poetry-swiping rapscallion, even stealing Shakespeare's "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," no less. But no quote from Johnson's "The City of Dreadful Night" appears in the book. I believe one of the authors thought the application of this obscure poem about London apropos. At some point, the line "They leave all hope behind who enter here" triggered a Dante memory, then came the realization that Forest Lawn/Whispering Glades has a spatial affinity to Inferno. Isherwood said he supplied the structure of the script and moved on to other work by July 1964.15 I have reviewed several versions of the script, and the versions from July on, written by Southern alone, show the most, maybe all of Dante-esque excursions. They seem haphazard due to the happenstance that Southern discovered and developed the Dante angle in the middle of his contracted project. However, Southern returns to Dante in his later film Easy Rider (1969), which follows the narrative course of Inferno rather strongly and methodically.
The zonation of Los Angeles' grotesqueries are not constrained to Whispering Glades. Aimee views the pet cemetery as sacrilegious. There is the alcoholic "Guru Brahmin," a fraudulent non-South Asian mystic and personal advice columnist. One time listening to Aimee's written laments he falls to the ground, like Dante does when he hears the woman from The Kiss tell her sad tale. No gluttony appears in Waugh's book, but Southern slathers it on big time. Aimee has another suitor, embalmer Lafayette Joyboy. Joyboy takes her home to meet his mother, a grotesque glutton, enabled by her prim and fussy son:
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One The Loved One
No special effects, no camera tricks here. This is real-deal gluttony. Joyboy delivers a whole roast suckling pig to his bed-entrenched mother. First she uses fork and knife, then beastlike, she tears the roasted carcass apart with her bare hands, in order to engorge herself even faster. Even her mynah bird "Gandhi" gets into it, plucking out an eye.16 Like Inferno, Southern's The Loved One is full of grotesque and strange people, animals, and scenes. More gluttony comes later. Mother Joyboy repetitively yanks on the legs of a roast turkey jammed in her refrigerator. This bird will not budge, and Mother tugs it so hard the fridge collapses on her, spilling its contents. She writhes on the floor in the comestible clutter, like the gluttons do in Dante's Inferno. Dennis tries to lend a hand, but Mother pushes it away, worried he is trying to steal her turkey. When Dennis desists Mrs. Joyboy asks him, "Do you see the cranberry sauce?" Dennis then gropes through the food on the floor to find a handful. Here are disgusting images:
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One promoted itself as "the motion picture with something to offend everyone." Could it be made today? Look how it treats dead animals. The first one seen is Milton Berle's dead dog Arthur:
The Loved One The Loved One
Evidently a taxidermized specimen. Here are two more shots:
The Loved One The Loved One
On the left is an embalmed cat at the "Happier Hunting Grounds" pet cemetery. This is no manufactured film set but an authentic location named Pet Haven.17 We see Dennis dump Arthur into a commercial refrigeration unit. Then Dennis turns to the communal fridge to grab some grub, and we see two dead dogs, above right. They do not look taxidermized. Rather, they appear to be two real dead dogs that were handily available at Pet Haven. The animal below, about to be cremated, is taxidermized or a replica:
The Loved One The Loved One
The Loved One The Loved One
Here Jonathan Winters gaffs a dog for the incinerator. Look at the pile of bone bits and ashes in the machine; probably the real deal. The men are interrupted by an aerial bombardment from wunderkind Paul Williams. They run away, and the gaffed dog gets hooked on the gate. The grotesqueness of the scene is heightened by the cuteness of this specific dog, which also looks expensive and purebred. Indeed, if the dog was not so sprightly and attractive, the scene might be merely disgusting or ugly. One scholar observes, "Most grotesques are marked by such an affinity/antagonism by the co-presence of the normative, fully formed, "high" or ideal, and the abnormal, unformed, degenerate, "low" or material."18 In its elements, grotesqueness can impart terror, disharmony, humor, absurdity, and parody. It can show distortion and exaggeration. David Tully, author of Terry Southern and the American Grotesque, locates much of Southern's wide work in a context of "American Grotesque." Tully says, "The American Grotesque is that element in American popular and pop culture that accentuates the freakish aspect of the carnival that is American culture: the freak show at the edge of town." But Los Angeles, recognized by Southern and Waugh, does not have such edges. It is the freak show at the edge of the continent. Waugh, borrowing from poet Alfred Tennyson (without attribution), called L.A. the "quiet limit of the world." Waugh visited Los Angeles in 1947 and disdained non-denominationalism, pentecostalism, Forest Lawn, pet cemeteries, and other things that did not meet his standards of human decorum. Southern adds to L.A.'s exotic strangeness with comedy about a retirement community akin to Leisure World, an early 1960s California idea apparently new and alien then. Being L.A, Southern cannot avoid alluding to the unsafe geology the city is built upon:
The Loved One The Loved One
Aimee is a squatter in a condemned house built on stilts. It stands in a land-slide zone, and it frequently shakes and rattles. When the Big One hits, such homes — and they do really exist — will not just collapse, they will flip like flapjacks. Quake survivors will take grotesque solace in the realization that at least they were not so stupid as to live in one of those homes.
Ninth Floor of L.A. Hell: Gigli (2003)
Each film denizen of the eight floors above gets my thumbs-up. But at the bottom of hell rests a very bad hombre, and that is Gigli. Ben Affleck plays a knuckleheaded thug ordered by some scumbag to kidnap the autistic brother of a federal government prosecutor for purposes of extortion to benefit scumbag's friend in New York, Al Pacino. Scumbag does not trust Affleck's competence, so he sends Jennifer Lopez, a lesbian hit woman, to keep an eye on him. Affleck talks and struts like a Jersey Shore type, but we learn he grew up in L.A. during a scene that begins with him injecting his mother's butt with a hypodermic needle. Affleck kidnaps the brother, Brian, from a special-needs facility. Brian immediately demands to be taken to "the Baywatch." Throughout the days of kidnapping he repeats the demand to be taken to "the Baywatch," specifying not the television show Baywatch, but something called "the Baywatch." Jersey Shore Affleck thinks Brian is just crazy, and plays along. He pretends to telephone "the Baywatch" and discover it is "closed today." Christopher Walken briefly invades the film as a UFO-conspiratorialist, pie-slurping cop. Later, scumbag tells Affleck and Lopez to cut off Brian's thumb and send it to the federal prosecutor to escalate the danger. Affleck and Lopez desist and instead employ the thumb of a cadaver at the hospital they happen to be at due to the happenstance of the suicide attempt by Lopez' lunatic lesbian ex, inexplicably occurring at Affleck's apartment where Brian is stashed. Also inexplicably, Brian has full access to a telephone, which he uses to call an Australian weather forecast recording. Affleck the kidnapper gets mad about the cost of these overseas
Gigli Gigli
Gigli Gigli
calls, not that Brian has access to a telephone. Affleck mails the cadaver thumb to Brian's brother the federal prosecutor, leaving his fingerprints and DNA all over the envelope. Al Pacino arrives in L.A. and calls Affleck, Lopez, and the scumbag for a conclave.
Gigli Gigli
He blasts scumbag through the head and then sits down to explain to him, at length, what a stupid idea it was to kidnap a federal prosecutor's brother. Therefore, no less an expert than Al Pacino exposits, more than three-quarters of the way through the film, that the film's own plot is stupid. There are so many better ways to spend your life than thinking much more about the illogic, nausea, and nastiness of Gigli, so here is the grossest part: scumbag's brains. When Pacino rightfully plugs him, the scumbag's blood and brains are blown back onto a glass panel of an aquarium. The camera follows the downward slide of the blood and brain chunks, reaching another aquarium and dropping in. Next we see a triggerfish checking out the scene. It turns to the left, espies a big morsel of scumbag's brain, then zips over to swallow it.
Gigli Gigli
Gigli Gigli
Gigli Gigli
I pondered the meaning of the purposeful setup of these two aquaria in the mafia film genre. In New York's Godfather (1972), Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes. But in L.A.'s Gigli, scumbag's brain is literally eaten by the fishes — is that it? Or as Affleck says, "What?" He says "What?" a lot throughout the film. For example, when Lopez' ex slashes her wrists with Affleck's kitchen knife, Affleck yells, "What the fuck is that? What's wrong with you? What the fuck is this?" as if questioning the whole film. To use a geological metaphor, this film is fracked. It is all fracked up. It is fracking wrong, and it is not the actors' fault. The underlying expected structures of logic, character, humor, and storytelling are completely fractured, betrayed, dislocated, and jumbled. Even the Los Angeles ending is confused. Affleck and Lopez decide to return Brian without harm. But first Lopez needs to be taken to the coast highway to thumb a ride to a place that is "clean," like "northern California or Oregon." By "clean" they are not talking about lack of pollution, but lack of persons like themselves. Huh? On the highway Brian sees on the beach "the Baywatch." It really exists! The Baywatch is a film set for some revisionist beach party film being shot at the spot on Will Rogers State Beach where the real shooting of Baywatch transpired. Where Pam Anderson got her infections. Brian is dumped there, at the bottom of the pit of L.A., Santa Monica Bay, and he thinks it is heaven. But the lovebirds Lopez and Affleck are smarter and decide to leave L.A. together, and drive northerly along the coast. So which is it? Is L.A. heaven beside poisonous waters, or a hell to flee? Which side is Gigli on? Or does Brian escape L.A. too? In his autistic mind, does he think he forsook America for Australia? There are several ways to physically escape L.A. hell. You can do it by airplane, like in The Loved One, skipping purgatory directly for first-class heaven. You can try by desert in films like Detour (1945). In the closing credits of Larry Crowne (2011), Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts escape the San Fernando Valley using both the coast and the desert. I recommend going south too, to San Diego, a nice place, not the damned hell of Los Angeles. If you loathe the purposes of the annual Tournament of Roses parade, and you curse the heavens for that strange climatic anomaly whereat almost every year the gloomy winter skies subside for brief hours on said worldwide televised event, you know exactly what I really mean.

1. I asked Jeff Jenke, writer and director of the Been to Hell video, about his artistic intentions: "Been to Hell showcases the perception of how and where dreams come to die . . . ." He regrets having to alter a few things due to legal issues, for example, omitting use of images of the Hollywood Undead band members projected onto the Hollywood Sign. Also, when the ill-fated actress visits Grauman's Chinese Theater, she presses her hands into the sidewalk hand impressions of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe's name had to be blurred.

2. The film does not discern there are two books of "Corinthians." I would not bother to point this out alone, but when the film shows the Latin text of its 17th chapter of "Corinthians," it is inserted after Isaiah 1:23, not in Corinthians 1 or 2.

3. Ennis, Garth, et al., John Constantine Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits (New York: DC Comics, 1996) containing previously published in single form Hellblazer 41-46. All the hellishness seems to happen in London, except for one encounter in Killiney, Ireland.

4. Taraborrelli, J. Randy, Michael Jackson: The Magic, the Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009 (New York: Grand Central, 2009), 68.

5. Polanski, Roman, Roman / by Polanski (New York: William Morrow, 1984) 348. Noted by Thom Andersen in Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003).

6. In a Barton Fink script dated February 19, 1990, the elevator operator is decapitated by Barton's neighbor, the excellent John Goodman. In the hallway scene of hell, before we see John, the operator debarks, "stumbling this way and that, his hands pressed against the sides of his head . . . takes a few steps forward, still clutching his head . . . his hands fall away from his head. His head separates from his neck, hits the floor and rolls away with a faint irregular trundle sound." In an Eraserhead dream sequence, a trundle wheels out a leafless tree. Then Henry spins a dowel in its fasteners, seemingly imitating the trundle sound. Then Henry's head pops off, perhaps representing the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the fall of man.

Eraserhead7. There is a mounted fish missing its tail fin on the dining room wall.

8. I concede the 2012 London Olympics' incessant replaying of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire" was a more irritating sports and music fusion, concentration-wise.

9. Riordan, Pat, Pam: The Life and Loves of Pamela Anderson (Boca Raton, FL: AMI Books, 2003), 93.

10. See, for example, "Malibu's Rental Tide Turns," Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2012, p. A1. "As the summer leasing scene in Malibu wraps up, real estate experts report that for homeowners the rental season smelled worse than a red tide at morning."

11. Zezima, Katie, "Tracing Unscooped Dog Waste Back to the Culprit, with Science," New York Times, July 1, 2011.

12. YouTube postings may be transitory, but at time of publication these two exist as good examples: a. "4th of July. Firework FAIL. Palm tree / house fire in Los Angeles" (Fire Shuffle)
b. "Palm Tree fire — Los Angeles 2012" (Highway to Hell — AC-DC / Take On Me — A-ha).

13. Elvis' chimp was named Scatter. The address of Norma's home is "ten thousand eighty-six Sunset Boulevard." Google Maps locates this fictional address at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and North Carolwood Drive in Los Angeles. Jackson's final residence was the rented mansion at 100 N. Carolwood, whose southern property border is Sunset Blvd. Elvis' house was 144 Monovale Drive, across the street to the north of Jackson's last residence.

14. "Legendary Director Peter Bogdanovich: What if Movies Are Part of the Problem?" Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 2012.

15. Isherwood: "I did a certain of work on [The Loved One], mostly of a structural nature, which is something that I have a certain talent for. But the person who was really working on the films was the author of Candy, Terry Southern. We worked a little bit together and got along very well. Tony [Richardson] wanted me to do another film, so I left that and Terry finished the screenplay." 1965 interview in Isherwood, Christopher, et al., Conversations with Christopher Isherwood (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi: 2001), 38.

16. In Waugh's book, Mother Joyboy is a coarse soul with a parrot. In a script dated April 1, 1964, Mother becomes "a bright little lady, very neat and elderly pretty, who is a health cultist and an exaggerated kind of Christian Scientist. She keeps saying 'There is no death.'" Her parrot repeats the same line. In later scripts Mother evolves into a fat slob and loses her religion, although her bird, now a Mynah named Gandhi, "because he is so skinny," still says "there is no death."

17. Mitford, Jessica, "The Formaldehyde Frolics," Holiday (Dec. 1965), 176.

18. Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (Aurora, CO: Davies Group Publishers, 2006), 11.

Constantine looking at the lights of L.A.
Previously for Bright Lights Film Journal J D Markel has written about Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. He admits authorship of On the Road to the Ninth Circle of Hell: Easy Rider Merges Lane's with Dante's Inferno and Faust but denies any culpability for spreading that film's spurious idea that land travel from Los Angeles International Airport (at Santa Monica Bay) eastward is a descent into hell, rather than the other way around.
November 2012 | Issue 78
J D Markel

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